[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[February 13, 1998]
[Pages 219-221]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the Swearing-In Ceremony for David Satcher as Surgeon General and Assistant Secretary for Health 
and an Exchange With Reporters
February 13, 1998

    The President. Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President; Secretary Shalala, 
thank you for your heroic efforts in this regard. To the Satcher family, 
Senator Kennedy, Senator 
Jeffords, Senator Frist, Congressman Stokes, Congressman 
Waters, to the members of the Satcher family 
and friends, and all the people who've worked so hard for this 
nomination, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the 
American Medical Association, the Association of American Medical 
Colleges, the National Medical Association. Dr. Sullivan, it's nice to see you back here.
    This is a good day for America. It should be a happy day for 
America, and it bodes well for the health of the American people and 
especially of the American children.
    I am very, very grateful to the bipartisan majority of the United 
States Senate who made it possible for us to swear in David Satcher as 
the next Surgeon General and Assistant Secretary of Health. Besides 
being superbly qualified, I can't help noting, he also looks good in his 
uniform. [Laughter]
    Only once before has the President had the honor and the opportunity 
to appoint one person to fill two of the most demanding public health 
positions in the Nation. Dr. Satcher is more than capable of meeting 
this challenge. From the overwhelming bipartisan support he received, 
and the strong support he received from professional organizations, it 
is clear that we have found the right advocate for America's public 
    He takes on his role at a pivotal time in American health care. 
Stunning medical breakthroughs, new treatments for some of our most 
deadly diseases, a rapidly changing health care system make it more 
important than ever that our Surgeon General truly be America's family 
doctor and guide us through this time of change.
    As Surgeon General, Dr. Satcher will give us plain talk and sound 
advice about what each of us can do to live healthier lives. He'll guide 
our Nation on the most important public health issues of our time, from 
increasing public awareness on how to prevent some of our most 
devastating diseases, to helping free our children from the deadly grip 
of tobacco. Later today in Philadelphia, I will be talking to some of 
America's premiere scientists about what we as a nation can do to 
protect our young people from tobacco. And I know that Dr. Satcher will 
continue to lead our efforts.
    This is a time of great opportunity and great challenge. We are also 
going to try this year to pass in the Congress a 21st century research 
fund to make unprecedented efforts to find cures for diseases from 
diabetes to Alzheimer's to AIDS. We are going to do our best to deal 
with the challenge of cloning by securing legislation that would ban the 
cloning of human beings but permit necessary medical research to go 
forward. We are going to try to pass a health care consumer bill of 
rights, increasingly important with over 160 million Americans in 
managed care plans. We are going to try to expand coverage--and the law 
is already enacted--to 5 million more children and to increase 
opportunities for people between the ages of 55 and 65 to have health 
care coverage.
    All those things are important, but in the end, the decisions the 
American people make day-in and day-out about their own health care, 
collectively, will have a bigger impact, certainly in the near and 
medium term on the welfare of their families, the health they enjoy, and 
therefore, the strength of our country. David Satcher is taking a very 
important job, and I am very, very glad that he is doing it.
    When I nominated him, Dr. Satcher told me how proud his mother would 
have been that

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a boy whose parents never had the chance to finish elementary school, 
and who nearly died from whooping cough, could grow up to become Surgeon 
General. Well today, Dr. Satcher, we here, and indeed, all Americans, 
share that pride.
    Under your leadership, an old-fashioned, genuine, honest-to-
goodness, all-American dream story will go forward to lead America into 
the 21st century stronger and healthier than ever.
    Now I'd like to ask the Vice President 
to swear Dr. Satcher in.

[At this point, Vice President Gore administered the oath of office, and 
Dr. Satcher made brief remarks.]

Situation in Iraq

    Q. Mr. President, the Russian Defense Minister very publicly, 
yesterday, ripped the--[inaudible]--Secretary Cohen. How big an obstacle 
to the policy that you're pursuing, which might have to use military 
force, is this?
    The President. Let me say, first of all, to the members of the 
Satcher family who aren't from Washington, when all the people from 
Washington started smiling when Sam [Sam 
Donaldson, ABC News] asked the question, you should understand that 
proves that this is a truly important event. [Laughter]
    Q. Flattery will get you everywhere. [Laughter]
    The President. I'm just trying to do it an inch at a time. 
    Let me say that's a very important question because of the reports 
of the meeting. I have talked at some length with President 
Yeltsin about this matter. This is a difficult 
thing for the Russians because they have long had--going back decades--a 
relationship with the nation of Iraq that long predates Saddam 
    The Russians agree with us that they are not in compliance with the 
United Nations resolutions. They agree with us that they must let the 
inspectors go back to work, do their job, open the sites. They want a 
diplomatic solution; I want a diplomatic solution. I have bent over 
backwards for months now to try to achieve a diplomatic solution. I am 
still working with the Russians, the French, the United Nations, 
anybody, to try to find a diplomatic solution.
    The difference here is that I simply do not believe it is acceptable 
to permit Iraq to walk away from its obligations, because what we want 
to do is to significantly diminish the capacity of the Iraqis to 
reconstitute, to develop, to deploy their weapons of mass destruction, 
and to threaten their neighbors. That is the difference. We don't 
believe it is acceptable, if diplomacy fails, to walk away.
    And our relationship with Russia is very important to us. My 
relationship with President Yeltsin has been 
very productive, and I believe we have advanced the cause of world peace 
in substantial ways and advanced our future partnership. But I don't 
think you can have a United Nations set of resolutions about something 
this important to the future of the world and simply walk away if 
diplomacy fails. And so, that's the rub. But we're going to keep working 
with the Russians and with everybody else. We're trying to find a 
diplomatic solution. And I hope that whatever happens, that our 
relationships with Russia will continue to be productive and 
constructive and strong because that's very important to the future of 
our people.
    Q. When push comes to shove, are you going to be able to go 
forward--if Russia says nyet?
    The President. I don't believe--nyet is not ``no'' for the United 
States under these circumstances.
    Q. Sir, if nyet is not ``no,'' how close are we to having troops in 
harm's way in Iraq?
    The President. Well, what--we are simply doing what we always do 
under circumstances like this. We're taking the necessary steps that you 
would expect the United States to take. But I will say again, if there 
is military action over this matter in Iraq, it will be Saddam Hussein's 
decision,  not mine. It's up to him to make 
that decision. And I hope and I pray that he will permit qualified, 
honest, nonpolitical, technically competent inspectors to have access to 
those sites which have been forbidden and then to permit the monitoring 
system to go.
    Just look at the volume--look at the sheer volume of stocks and 
weapons in the chemical and biological area. Look at the nuclear work 
that's been done since the end of the Gulf war. The inspection system 
works. It has made the world safer. If he would let that inspection 
system be completed and accept the offer of the international community, 
which the United States strongly supports, to sell more oil and have 
more funds for food and medicine and for reconstituting the basic, 
fundamental necessities of human life in this country, we would be well 
on the way to resolving this.

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    This is not a complicated thing. A country like Iraq can be a great 
country and succeed without having a chemical and biological weapons 
program and the means to visit those weapons on their neighbors. And 
this is a decision for him to make. I think it is a no-brainer in terms 
of what's right for the people, the children, and the future of Iraq. 
But the rest of us have to worry about the children and the people and 
the future of all the people that are around Iraq or might someday find 
their way in harm's way if those weapons of chemical and biological 
destruction are more widely disseminated.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to former Secretary of Health and 
Human Services Louis W. Sullivan; and President Boris Yeltsin of Russia. 
A reporter referred to Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev of Russia.